Given few realistic options, Italians turn again to Berlusconi.

I owe readers an update on the Italian political situation.

Back in February, the centre-left government of Romano Prodi fell and the country embarked on a long election campaign that culminated in general elections on the 13th and 14th of April.
(See posts on February 6 "Italians...polls" and February 4 "Government in trouble")

The man I've tried to draw here emerged the winner. It's Silvio Berlusconi, also known as "il Cavaliere." He leads the People of Freedom Party and his coalition has a majority in both houses of parliament.

This is the third time Berlusconi, 71, has become prime minister. On this occasion he won almost by default, as voters soundly rejected Prodi's unpopular coalition.

Italy's political system urgently needs reform, and it will be curious to see if Berlusconi can make progress. Optimism is hard to come by, considering Berlusconi's history of conflicts of interest and legal problems with the judiciary; a judiciary that has indicted him before for tax evasion and other charges.

Now the stakes are even higher, as Italy's economy is going through some very difficult times. The Economist magazine says in its April 19th issue: "Voters have good cause to fret about the economy. In the past two decades Italy has unquestionably become the sick man of Europe."

Berlusconi, on the other hand is healthy, and the richest man in the country. People hope he can turn things around. It will get interesting. He is a spontaneous and charismatic figure who often finds himself in hot water for saying unpredictable things.

He will have to make some tough choices. Change, it seems, is more difficult to achieve in Italy than in other countries: political power is fractured and the powerful unions and public sector workers won't keep il Cavaliere in a jovial mood for long.

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